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Mountain man

George Henderson - skier, mountaineer, photographer - writes a memoir recalling the early days of Timberline Lodge and Mount Hood skiing
by: George Henderson and Friends of Timberline, George Henderson on the south side of Mount Hood in 1939. Now 91, the Portland resident spent most of his first 30 years in lthe mountains of Montana, Idaho and Oregon.

The people of Depression-era America weren't supposed to know that their president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was so badly crippled by polio that he couldn't walk. The president's men and women worked hard to hide FDR's disability from the public, and usually they succeeded.

Then a young Portland photographer named George Henderson, covering the September 1937 dedication of the brand-new Timberline Lodge, which Roosevelt attended, snapped a shot of an aide helping the president out of his car at the lodge. Another man in the photograph - a Secret Service agent - is pointing his finger toward the camera, warning Henderson that he'd better not take this picture.

'So of course I took it,' Henderson, now 91, recalls.

No one asked Henderson to hand over his film; thus a copy of his photograph hangs at Timberline to this day. The image also appears in Henderson's new book, 'Lonely on the Mountain: A Skier's Memoir.'

Henderson, a Southwest Portland resident who was Timberline Lodge's first publicity director, has written a first-person account of his life as a skier, mountaineer and publicist in Oregon's Cascades, including the early days of skiing on Mount Hood and the creation of Timberline Lodge.

Henderson wrote 'Lonely on the Mountain,' published in May, at the urging of his children, who had heard his stories while growing up. 'They were ragging me to write them down,' says Henderson, who worked for Timberline Lodge from its opening until the United States entered World War II, then worked for a bank for 32 years.

Henderson begins his own story by recounting his father's life as a Montana sawmill operator and Indiana farmer who married a schoolteacher. The couple raised two sons - George and his older brother, Wymond - and moved the family to Portland when George was 14.

In 1936, George Henderson was a trainee at a variety store in Portland when he decided to quit. 'I thought I'd try to make a living as a photojournalist,' he says.

The Bonneville Dam Chronicle, a newspaper in Cascade Locks, hired Henderson as its reporter, advertising salesman and circulation manager. Even with all three jobs, he didn't earn enough to make a living, so after several weeks he quit that, too.

He then got a job with the nonprofit Oregon Winter Sports Association, a leading advocate of the Timberline Lodge project. His first publicity photo, taken in May 1936 at the lodge's future site, showed an attractive young woman named Delores Enebo wearing a swimsuit and a pair of skis. The photo (also in 'Lonely on the Mountain') appeared in 100 newspapers all over the United States, 'from Boston to New Orleans,' Henderson says.

While working for Timberline, he hired a San Francisco company to promote the hotel and met his future wife, Janice, who worked for the company. They wed in San Francisco, 'and I emancipated her to Portland, for which she never forgave me,' Henderson says, smiling.

They raised their four daughters and one son in west Portland. Janice died of lung cancer five years ago at age 80.

Through the years, Henderson kept going back to the mountain. He entered a slalom race in Utah at age 81 and continued to ski until he was 85. He climbed Mount Hood 55 times before World War II; his last ascent was May 31, 1986, when he was 71.

All told, he figures he's climbed Mount Hood close to 70 times. He's not sure of the exact number. 'I quit signing in,' he says, smiling.